Thursday, March 02, 2006

Work life balance

While we were in Sweden earlier this week, we spent a fair amount of time discussing working practice and policies in general with our hosts. It seems the Swedes are streets ahead of us in the UK. They really appear to have it sorted on the work-life balance/flexible working front.

Their maternity/paternity leave structure is great. A new mother, for example gets 470 days (I think that's what it was), which she can use in any way she pleases up until the child goes to school. However, if the child becomes ill and she needs to stay home - those days are not included in the 470 - there is other provision for that. The new father has fewer days, but he is also free to use them in any way he sees fit within a certain time frame.

Our hosts have a three year old son. They have their work lives arranged in such a way that Mom will start work at 7 some days, while Dad starts work at 9.30, having dropped the lad off at day care at 9am. Mom then picks the little fellow up at 4pm. Very civilised. The next day, Mom will start her working day later, so that she drop off their little boy, who is duly collected by Dad who had the early start that day. Either or both of them can choose to work at home at any time, and they often split the day between home and office - each taking half a day at home so that their son can spend time in his own home. Life revolves around the family, not the job.

In my current role, I have this flexibility as well, but I know that my team is very much in the minority.

My husband and I chose for me to work freelance around the children while they were very small. I then went back to work on a part time basis for a few years, returning to full time work when my younger son was 9. The job was 9-5.30, with no option for remote working. This was not with my current employer, by the way. The stated credo fo the organisation was "family comes first" and this phrase was regularly trotted out. But it was bunkum. On one occasion, during the school holidays, my younger son (then aged 10) took ill. I nipped home to check up on him at one point when he was in particularly bad shape, and was back at work inside half an hour to face a severe reprimand for having left without first seeking permission from my boss (who had been out of the office at the time). I could not promise that there would be no repeat because I knew, under the same circumstances, my response would be the same.

Some time later, she herself had a baby and her attitutudes changed. However, her original attitudes were informed by the general ethos among employers in the UK.

My husband, who holds a fairly senior post in a London-based company is not afforded the option for remote work. This is strange, because he manages the functions in four other countries as part of his job, and he does that remotely both from his office in London and from home when issues need to be resolved outside of UK working hours. So why should he not be able to manage the London function from home a couple of days a week?

We have a long way to go!

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